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Full text of "Men Of Mathematics"

A.N  IRISH  TRAGEDY
paratively provincial ones. The Hebrew, Persian, and Arabic
are about to be confirmed by the superior and intimate acquain-
tance with the Sanskrit, in which he is already a proficient. The
Chaldee and Syriac he is grounded in, also the Hindoostani,
Malay, Mahratta, Bengali, and others. He is about to commence
the Chinese, but the difficulty of procuring books is very great
It cost me a large sum to supply him from London, but I hope
the money was well expended.' To which we can only throw up
our hands and ejaculate Good God! What was the sense of it all?
By thirteen William was able to brag that he had mastered
one language for each year he had lived. At fourteen he com-
posed a flowery welcome in Persian to the Persian Ambassador,
then visiting Dublin, and had it transmitted to the astonished
potentate. Wishing to follow up his advantage and slay the
already slain, young Hamilton called on the Ambassador, but
that wily oriental, forewarned by his faithful secretary, 'much
regretted that on account of a bad headache he was unable to
receive me [Hamilton] personally.5 Perhaps the Ambassador
had not yet recovered from the official banquet, or he may have
read the letter. In translation at least it is pretty awful — just
the sort of thing a boy of fourteen, taking himself with devas-
tating seriousness and acquainted with all the stickiest and
most bombastic passages of the Persian poets, might imagine a
sophisticated oriental out on a wild Irish spree would relish as
a pick-me-up the morning after. Had young Hamilton really
wished to view the Ambassador he should have sent in a salt
herring, not a Persian poem.
Except for his amazing ability, the maturity of his conversa-
tion and his poetical love of nature in all her moods, Hamilton
was like any other healthy boy. He delighted hi swimming and
had none of the grind's interesting if somewhat repulsive pallor.
His disposition was genial and his temper - rather unusually so
for a sturdy Irish boy - invariably even. In later life, however,
Hamilton showed his Irish by challenging a detractor - who had
called him a liar - to mortal combat. But the affair was amic-
ably arranged by Hamilton's second, and Sir William cannot
be legitimately counted as one of the great mathematical
duellists. In other respects young Hamilton was not a normal
M.H.—VOL. II.                                              . C                                                              375